Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE KING OF SPAIN, by MAXWELL BODENHEIM



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THE KING OF SPAIN, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: If you would know why men dread nonchalance
Last Line: And waited for the signal of her wrath.
Subject(s): Cynicism


If you would know why men dread nonchalance
When nonchalance leans back upon the chair
Of thought, and orders motives and renowns
To pass, disrobed and soiled, before its stare;
And why men are not fearful when the words
Of earthly spontaneity insist
Upon the same exposure, you must hear
The story of the King of Spain's black tryst.

The King was middle-aged, and life had pressed
Its joking, deep, confused experiments
Upon his face, and had been half repelled
By shining, quickly said presentiments
Within his eyes and from his wary lips.
His face was dark, and like an endlessly
Half morbid tour-de-force, since he believed
That meditation and finesse should be
United in a lunge against decay.
To all his men and women he became
A masterful enigma, somehow raised
Above their customary love and blame.
He gave them boredom, pity, and contempt
In such a quick succession that they knelt
In fine bewilderment and then returned
Less confidently to their greed and stealth.
When men were dull sincere idealists,
His pleasantries pretended to agree,
And when their egotism snarled and leered
He fed them poison imperceptibly --
A poison wrought of promises and jibes
That made each malice indolent and slim,
Or caused its sword to strike impatiently
Against his heart forever taut and grim.
He laughed at women, and regarded them
As trumpets into which his vanity
Blew lyrics of completion and despair,
With intervals of bored profanity.
But when he met a woman with a mind
Of freshly seething images and hues,
He treated her with delicate reserve
As though she held incredible, bright news.

One night within his garden's trickery,
Where candid breezes twitted leaf and bloom
Impalpably and with erratic grace,
He looked upon the metal hint of doom.
The woman at his side was like a form
Of light and fragrance desperately wrought
Into a semblance of slow-breathing flesh,
With line and substance barely traced and caught.
Her black hair found a whiteness in the night,
Her eyes held earth and mysticism pressed
Into a lightly indecisive blue,
Her lips were whims whose words could not be guessed --
Almost intangible, and straight, and small.
Her skin was like a scarf dropped in a fight
Between the night and starlight, and her young
Unmoving body bore it, close and slight.

Observing every part of her, the King
Felt for the first time like an armless knave
Who longed to touch her and regain his limbs
But feared that he would find himself a slave.
He said: "My cynicism dies before
The scarcely plausible suspended guise
With which your slender form convinces me
That you are not a twinkling wisp of lies!
Within the heart of any libertine
A ghostly lad resents his furtive death,
And now I ask you to award him one
Imaginative hour of depth and breadth.
For laughter, weeping, and the intellect,
Swept close within your form no longer seem
To be unfriendly and implacable,
But find your bosom in an even dream."

She looked upon the trees and at the sky
As though they were a distant and a near
Betrayal and denial of her mood,
Disturbing her to preludes made of fear.
She said: "Behind the shrubbery that lines
This walk six men are waiting for the end
Of your bombastic, oddly humble words,
And when I signal to them they will rend
The artifice and venom of your heart.
Your stilted poetry and wilted lust,
They come together in a compromise
And bring distinction to your self-disgust.
Oh, you would like to think that all you see
Of me is but a sleight-of-hand affair
Made by the moon -- yes, both your arms and lips
Are weary of the flesh, and they would dare
The novelty of raping spirit-forms.
You sat beside my sister underneath
This tree, and swore that she was like a wraith
Of thought and feeling holding up a wreath
Of starlight -- scarcely strong enough to hold
The heavy light -- while she became the clue
That saved you from a gross reality.
She died because her memory of you
Grew tall and starved within the empty prose
Of lonely mornings and less artful men.
My hatred for you is the miracle
With which I keep her face intact, and when
My signal now brings on your death, perhaps
Her own defrauded lips will fall apart,
And she will stand here waiting to restore
The maimed and frosty gamester of your heart!"

The King, who had been listening to her
With envy and regret pressed by a smile
To one still wrestle on his face, replied
In his accustomed, softly balanced style:
"The moon-glow, shift of leaves, and odors like
The fainting consolation made by night
To heal innumerable wounds, they turned
Your sister's body to an urgent, light
Retreat from lust, and jealousy, and fear.
Her sex was purified, frail, and unreal,
And when she leaned upon me I became
All perilously downcast, and could feel
Intense apologies for all the haste
And crudeness ever known to human touch.

But on the next day, when she stood within
The studied meanness of my court, with much
Inconsequential rouge upon her face,
With lips securely veiled and satisfied,
And all her speech unfruitful and demure,
I knew then that her heart and mind had lied.
You also were transfigured and aroused
Within this garden's verse of light and sound,
Until my words revived your hates and plans,
And pressed your feet once more upon the ground.
But you, unlike your sister, have a soul,
And you were not a magic accident
Born from the breath of night against your heart.
You will be forced to leave your small intent
And make your peace with moonlight on the trees.
Your plot was known to me, and yet I came
To watch the gamble of your wakened soul
With dark persuaders made of hate and blame."

Her pierced and insubstantial face revealed
Swift-moving shades of liking and despair,
Whose struggle seemed to rise into her hands
That rested on the blackness of her hair.
And then, without a word, she caught his arm
And walked beside him down the moon-striped path,
While six men cursed and wondered as they crouched
And waited for the signal of her wrath.




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